published: Sat, 16-Feb-2008   |   updated: Sat, 16-Feb-2008
Cover of Lewis DVD

Last night I finished watching the first series of Lewis, a continuation (or perhaps offshoot) of the Inspector Morse series. It is five years after Morse died and Sergeant Lewis is now an Inspector in his own right and has returned to Oxford to take up his duties again.

After watching all the Morse episodes in sequence at the end of last year, I was left with an empty feeling and so it was with pleasure that I noticed that the producers of Morse had decided to resurrect Robbie Lewis in his own series. It was with anticipation that I ordered the first series on DVD (the pilot and three further episodes) from Amazon.co.uk: could these programmes live up to the Morse canon?

In the time since Morse's death, Lewis has lost his wife to a hit-and-run driver, his children have grown up and left home, and he's spent two years training the local force in the British Virgin Islands. He returns home to a very different Oxford, full of memories and facing an uncertain future.

The first person he meets at Heathrow is Sergeant James Hathaway, who's drawn the short straw to collect him from the airport. The first car he (almost) meets in the airport car park is a maroon/red Jaguar Mark II, the first of a set of not so subtle nods to Morse (and some, thankfully, are much more subtle than that).

Through that first pilot episode, Lewis earns the position of Detective Inspector and Hathaway becomes his right-hand man. Hathaway is classically educated (at Cambridge, not Oxford) and so the writers have evoked the tension between Morse and Lewis again, but now with Lewis as the world-weary superior.

And have the producers succeeded in reviving the whole atmosphere of Morse? I feel justified in asking this question since they're obviously aiming for that particular "look"; this is no gritty police drama set in the East End.

To be honest, it got better as I watched the episodes in sequence. I felt the final chapter in the series, Expiation, was the best one of them all: the relationship between Lewis and Hathaway had settled down, Lewis was starting to use his intuition more and to have a bit of a backbone (in the others, I felt as if he was being swept along by the action, rather than influencing it), and the references to Morse were becoming much more subtle (the ending of this episode was set in the same pub as the scene in The Remorseful Day when Morse recited the Houseman poem).

Some jarring notes remain though, and I hope they are addressed in the second series (whose release on DVD is in a couple of months). I'm not convinced by Chief Superintendent Innocent, for example. I feel as if she's more of a stereotype than a well-fleshed-out character and in the last episode she was even more stereotypical than before. Lewis' relationships with the opposite sex seem to me as being forced into the Morse mold too, with Lewis aiming and missing. I would think that Lewis would have more of a clue, having been married for twenty years (say), compared with Morse's perpetual, nay, monastic, bachelorhood.

Also the plots in this first series didn't seem as satisfying to this observer as the ones in Morse. In Expiation, my favorite, the solution of the case rested on a particular witness, unconnected with the first death, holding something back unnecessarily, and a little unbelievably.

Kevin Whatley does well as Lewis, just like before, and I do enjoy watching him and how he fleshes out his character. Lawrence Fox grew on me through the series, and he finally gelled for me as Hathaway in the last episode. Before that he seemed to be too much of a cold fish, but by Expiation, the writers had given him more depth and he seemed much more believable.

All told, I'd say a bit of a rocky start, but certainly worth watching, and certainly worth putting down the money to preorder the second series.